We already knew that Jimmy Butler didn’t have the Los Angeles Lakers on his list of preferred trade destinations, but now we know why: Because LeBron James is on the team.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that while Butler wants to play in a big market, he also wants a starring role, something he (apparently) doesn’t feel he can have with James in town:
He is enamored with the idea of playing a central role in a big market, sources said. Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James’ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.
Butler had wanted to play for the Lakers in 2015, but was unable to do so because of cap complications explained here. It would seem that dream never died, until it did when Butler realized he wouldn’t be seen as the savior in Los Angeles.
While this does add to a growing pattern of superstars not exactly tripping over each other in a fight to play with James, there is some unique context to each of them.
Paul George didn’t want to get traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, but that was because James wasn’t committed to the team for more than the season. Kyrie Irving asked out, but that was a) because he wanted to go have his own team and probably b) because he saw the writing on the wall and wanted to get dealt from a position of strength, not right after James just left.
So Butler makes three, but it seems that the trend here is that a very specific type of star doesn’t want to play with James: The type that wants to be seen as the undisputed savior of a team. Irving wanted his own team, George seemed enamored with the homecoming hero narrative that would’ve been partially robbed from him by the presence of James, and Butler seems to want some combination of the two — assuming this report is accurate, which it’s Woj, so it is.
Should this be a concern for the Lakers moving forward? Possibly, but it’s also not like stars have never wanted to sign up to play with James. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were more than happy to team up with him on the Miami Heat while partially kickstarting the trend of superstar team ups, while Kevin Love was willing to green-light a trade to Cleveland and re-signed there.
So what we’re (anecdotally) learning is that some stars do want to play with James, but it’s the types of stars that don’t necessarily want all of the credit and opportunities that come with being the lone face of a team. There is nothing morally wrong with those players wanting those things, either, everyone values success and what they want out of their career differently.
Playing with James also isn’t always easy, especially not for star-type players, as Bosh and Love found out. James gets almost all the credit when his team wins, but when he loses, you can bet you’re going to take the brunt of the blame. Not everyone wants that, and a player has to have a unique commitment to winning and horse-blinders for criticism to see it as the perfect option.
This is probably a character trait to watch for moving forward as the Lakers move on to their other possible free agent targets for the summer of 2019, and it’s the very least interesting that the front office has cleared exactly enough cap space to offer Kevin Durant — who has shown to be more than willing to team up with other stars and is friendly with James — the full max next July.
It’s also worth noting that the Lakers are still probably better off after the events of today. A trade for Butler never made a ton of sense given that right now it would’ve likely had to include Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram to make the cap math work — a sure nonstarter for a player who will be a free agent in July — and that the Lakers’ players on one-year contracts can’t be moved until December.
It’s worth keeping an eye on what we’re hearing about whether or not players want to team up with James, but Butler just never made a ton of sense, especially with two other — objectively better — free agent options available next summer in Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
Now the Lakers just have to hope one of them is more amenable to playing the Robin to James’ Batman than Butler was.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.